On December 8, 2018, Elevating Your Business began its 20th year in business as a life and business coaching firm specializing in working with independent financial advisors and planners. As I often do, I was thinking about how to use this important milestone as a teaching tool for my clients and to help them discover something new to help their businesses. Now that my anniversary year has begun and it’s the first quarter of a new year, what better time to write an article?
Before I even thought about starting my business, I had left my 25-year career on Wall Street in search of “something more,” which I thought was nonprofits—at first—and had decided to return to Wall Street when a car accident rerouted my life for me.
I spent over a year recuperating and thinking about what I wanted to do next. I considered career moves including interior design, organizing, running a restaurant (until I realized my love for cooking did not include doing it for a living), and a few other professions. During that time, I moved from New York to rural North Carolina, and when I was finally able to get The New York Times delivered to me, an article about a new industry called life coaching caught my eye.
The article featured Thomas Leonard, a financial planner known as “the father of coaching,” and pictured him in front of his RV, traveling the country while creating this new concept. I thought that life coaching fit my values and inclinations. Of course, then I realized how many times people had informed me that I had knack for helping people live better lives or had told me how much I helped them personally. I made my decision and took courses from the only life coach training institution at the time, Thomas Leonard’s Coach U.
Coaching offered me the perfect way to help business owners—a combination of personal coaching (because wherever you go, there you are) and business coaching to share the strategic operations knowledge I had acquired during my Wall Street career.
You see, I never left the “corporate secrets” I learned on Wall Street behind; I eventually added them to my life coaching curriculum for clients. In addition, my experience in a Wall Street C-suite gave me a unique perspective on the financial industry and its changes, and how those changes affected my clients and the way they do business.
The last nineteen years have made the real jewels of time-proven wisdom stand out, as only the passage of time can do! It didn’t take long for me to identify five key mistakes that have had the most impact on my clients, especially on their ability to save time and increase productivity. Once these mistakes are corrected, the way to healthy and sustainable growth is revealed. Make these adjustments in 2019, and they will carry you through the next decade and beyond—no resolutions needed!
Mistake #1: Failing to define a niche and an ideal client
It may sound counterintuitive, but there is nothing that will limit your growth more than refusing to define clearly and put limits on the kind of clients you serve. Failing to define a niche and an ideal client makes your business inefficient—and nothing puts you on the hamster wheel of life faster.
Most advisers think they must accept anyone who breathes as a client or risk not having enough clients. This simply isn’t true. In fact, the most successful financial advisors are those who have chosen a niche to serve. They experience the benefits of being more focused and having the most streamlined businesses, operationally and otherwise. Your niche and ideal client provide you with direction for all your business decisions, from administration and operations to sales and marketing. An advisor with a niche can leave for vacation and not worry!
Choosing a niche and an ideal client will help you stand out among other independent financial advisors, of which there are many more now than 20 years ago—even 10 years ago. And best of all, a niche and ideal client will make you stand out on something valuable because you build your niche and ideal client based on your own values and preferences.
Of course, I had to learn this lesson the hard way when I started my business 20 years ago. My a-ha moment came when I discovered that I had fourteen different Planning PowerPoint presentations in my computer, each for a different industry. I needed to do a ton of research learning about each industry to create each presentation. I realized then that I should be spending my time focused on a specific segment, not reinventing the wheel, which was a drain on my time. Once I chose a niche, life became much easier, and my business became more profitable. This is why my new clients complete in-depth training modules to define a niche and an ideal client before any other training or planning is done.
Mistake #2: No business plan
I’ve always found this tendency ironic for financial advisors because planning and acting upon the plan are things they insist upon from their own clients! As you know, planning does not have to be complicated to be effective. Without a plan, however, you become more fireman than financial advisor, putting out fires in your business instead of working towards your goals. So, why don’t financial advisors and other business owners create a business and marketing plan?
Most advisors don’t have a plan because things will change. And they will. They also think they must spend a month writing a fifty-page novel that will collect dust on the shelf. This is not true.
I take my clients through a comprehensive business planning process that can be done in as little as a weekend and fits on just one page. This kind of plan is used daily and keeps my clients focused on their vision all year. It gives them more empathy for their clients when they have to plan, too! My clients’ plans also guide all their marketing decisions and prevent them from spending marketing dollars foolishly.
Mistake #3: Engaging in “spaghetti marketing”
This mistake is related to the lack of planning described above. When you don’t have a plan, you tend to spend money on “marketing bling.” And while some marketing innovations are necessary to keep up with the times, you don’t need to spend money on every new scheme that comes along.
This is also related to mistake number one. Once you define your niche and ideal client, it becomes very clear where to use your marketing dollars. For example, if your ideal client does not spend a lot of time on Facebook, you shouldn’t waste time there, either.
Mistake #4: Creating a J.O.B. for yourself
As more financial advisors have made the leap to independence in the past decade, this has become a bigger problem.
But it’s not only financial advisors that make this mistake. Most business owners inflict this upon themselves. As famously brought to light by the best-selling book, The E-Myth, author Michael Gerber points out that, as an entrepreneur, you must work on the business not in it.
I have found the most successful financial advisors are what I call “Advisor CEOs.” An Advisor CEO has a totally different mindset. An Advisor CEO would never:
- Take on any client that requires more work than is profitable for the firm. (Your best clients should never be paying for the services you provide to any other client — a big No No!)
- Underpay herself. Resource: Pricing: 7 Things to Ponder http://www.elevatingyourbusiness.com/pricing-your-service-or-product-7-things-to-ponder/
- Spend time learning to do things when he should hire someone to do it. Resource: To Grow Your Business, Delegate Your Hats http://www.elevatingyourbusiness.com/financial-advisors-to-grow-get-rid-of-some-of-your-hats/
- Trade time (hours worked) for dollars. Resource: 7 Steps You Can Take to Stop Trading Time for Money https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244745
Like many of my clients, I’ve made these mistakes, and they cost me dearly. But I learned my lessons and have since been careful to keep my mindset framed as a business owner not a jack-of-all-trades with a lunatic as a boss!
For example, I’ve always hired contractors to do the jobs that aren’t my strengths (like graphic art) or I don’t enjoy doing (like bookkeeping). Of course, I always guide my clients to hire out more and more tasks systematically as they become true Advisor CEOs.
Mistake #5: Fearing and ignoring change
I’ve written several hundred articles over the last two decades about best practices, business planning, and in the last few years, change and its impact on advisors and their businesses. Dealing with change became my most-requested speaking topic of 2018!
This is where my life coach training from 20 years ago came in handy. There are many emotional and psychological aspects to change, but we know from innovators in other industries that business owners need to embrace and profit from change.
Rest assured, you are in good company. When I traveled to India in February of 2018, change was the topic of my workshop! Here is a video about change and trends where I was interviewed at the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpugB6tLq9M
Grow Your Financial Firm in 2019 and Beyond
Steering clients towards simplifying business and building their legacies requires me to stay on the forefront of changes to best business practices. But the five mistakes I’ve outlined above I’ve found to be truly impactful no matter what is going on in the economy or the financial industry.
I’m not saying I’m Nostradamus, but in 2007, I was asked where the financial industry was going. I mentioned that I thought commissions would decrease and that, over time, the value in the financial industry would be in the consulting and coaching provided by advisors. We are certainly much closer to that now than we were back then! And as my “prediction” has played out over the years, I’ve continued to instruct my clients on best practices to take advantage of this evolving environment.
What about the next 10 or 20 years? My recommendation for financial advisors is to create a financial center, whether it’s hiring other financial professionals or creating strategic alliances with them to become a one-stop shop for helping people with all their financial needs.
Seek out CPAs, bookkeepers, insurance brokers, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, estate attorneys, bankers, and other financial professionals who share your values and ideal clients. Your clients will find working with your firm more valuable when you become the go-to destination for all their financial needs.
Move clients to virtual interaction as you become more comfortable working with them over the phone and over the Internet using your website and apps. As you’re probably aware, your clients are busy, maybe too busy to visit your office on a regular basis, and as time goes on, they’ll move. Offering your clients the option of talking with you via phone or the Internet offers them a “new” service. I believe that, in ten years, fifty percent of a financial advisor’s practice will be virtual. Think ahead and be prepared for these changes!
Here are a few pointers (and resources) for you to start 2019 right. In order to access all the resources listed, go to a web page I’ve created for this purpose: https://coachmaria.com/20-years/
- #1 – Begin defining your niche and ideal client. See my “Hitting Your Niche” video, which gives you all the information you need to start and pitfalls to avoid.
- #2 – Create a business plan and act on it daily. Begin by completing my “Business Checkup” to spot the areas of your business that need the most help and areas that earn a “hurrah!”
- #3 – Spend your marketing dollars and time marketing directly to your niche. Start with my “Niche Rich” assessment to see how well you know your ideal clients.
- #4 – Become the CEO of your business and lead with that mindset. Listen to an audio where Annie Jennings, PR expert, interviewed me on this topic.
- #5 – Change your mind about change. Transform your attitude from “change sucks” to “change is an adventure.” Go to the video of my India workshop, “Profiting from Change”, to hear my advice to a room full of financial advisors just like you.
Remember, you began your business to serve clients “your way” and own your relationships with them. In the process, you want to create what I call Full-Fillment in your work, where you build the business and life of your dreams. I hope you continue to achieve that in 2019, and if you’re falling short and need some assistance, you know where to find a helping hand.
About the Author
Maria Marsala, founder of Elevating Your Business, is a management consultant, life coach, speaker, author, and Wall Street veteran. As a consultative-coach, she guides seasoned financial advisors to simplify business, advise more, and live better. For more such articles please visit www.ElevatingYourBusiness.com